Baja 1000 Champ Talks Quads & UTVs
“With age comes the cage,” is the saying popular among UTV racing’s elite. They know the benefits of being inside a fully protected environment, versus being on the outside of a vehicle (ATVs and dirt bikes).
Another truism is that experience counts. That is why racers from one genre, such as quad racers, have a natural advantage over most of their rivals. They already know the logistics involved in doing it, and have a keen eye towards “reading” terrain and the insider’s experience of having competed before.
Wayne Matlock is a former ATV desert racer who has won the Baja 1000 and 500 several times, and taken quad championships in the SCORE and BITD (Best In The Desert) series ever since 1998. Today, Wayne races a tricked out JIMCO RZR sponsored by land developer Terry Hui and his company Concord Pacific.
Wayne races a Polaris RZR XP 1000 EPS, in both the BITD and SCORE series, taking his first Baja 500 and 1000 UTV class wins in the highly competitive SCORE UTV series and winning the Imperial Vally 250 desert race, as well as his victories at the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 events for 2015. We had a chance to speak with Wayne about his recent Class 19 SCORE Baja wins and what it means to him. Also, how pivotal his dad, Cliff Matlock, was in making off-road racing a part of his life.
Good morning Wayne, tell us a little about yourself. You obviously have a long history of racing in Baja with quads. How did you get involved in off-roading anyhow? I got involved in off-roading because of my father. My dad raced motorcycles and ATVs semi-professionally, then professionally for a while. I just kind of grew up doing it. Going to the races with my dad and mom all the time, it was just natural for me to start racing.
I think it was back in 1986 when my dad won the Baja 500 on a completely stock Honda 250R FourTrax. It was him and one other guy racing and they actually beat the factory Honda teams. They weren’t supposed to win, but they did.
Your dad got you started racing quads?
Throughout his whole career he raced dirt bikes and quads. In the mid ‘90s he raced Baja on a class 30 (motorcycle) team. That was a team he put together and he had riders like Marty Moates (a former top mx racer and winner of the Carlsbad USGP) and Ricky Johnson (multiple US MX titles) racing with him, I think three or four different times. That’s how I got to meet Bruce Ogilvie (Honda’s off-road Baja race team coordinator at the time) and the guys from Honda. All that came about through my dad and his racing. I raced an ATV for the first time in 1998. It was my very first professional race. I raced with Greg Row, at the San Felipe Baja event. We won first overall that year aboard a quad. That was when I was 18 or 19 years old and, after that event, I didn’t race quads again for a while. I started racing dirt bikes and my best finish on a dirt bike was third in the Open Pro class down in Baja.
So, dirt bike racing wasn’t paying off for you then?
Not really. Then Greg Rowe called me wanting to know if I was interested in racing a quad again? The kicker was he told me it would all be paid for. So I said, “Yeah, sure. Why not!” That’s what kind of started my whole ATV racing career. I raced the quad for two years with Greg Row and Danny Prather, and then I got picked up by Suzuki through Alba Action Sports. My teammate Chad Prull and I were out there winning races on a Suzuki LTZ 400, and we were beating the guys on Hondas aboard the bigger and faster TRX450Rs. We got the attention of Honda and then in 2005, at the Baja 1000, I rode my first race for Honda. That was my very first race for them and we ended up winning that year’s Baja 1000. It was also my very first Baja 1000 win.
How long did your race ATVs for Honda back then?
I ended up riding for American Honda for nine years. From that point, all the way up through 2013, which was my last race for them. It was a good run while it lasted. What got your attention to start racing UTVs?
I think it was just a natural progression. You know, towards the end of my ATV racing career, I decided I didn’t want to quit racing because I really loved it. But, Honda had pulled out of ATV racing. So, it kind of left me looking for something to do, race-wise. I was kind of burnt out racing quads. I also noticed that the UTVs shared a lot of the same sponsors I had. It seemed like a natural fit. I wanted to go in and race with a cage. You know, with age comes the cage….(laughs).
Isn’t that the truth….
When it comes to quads verses SxS vehicles, it isn’t that far of a difference between the two. You still have four wheels, and still have to watch where you put them while going as fast as you can.
How did you find a sponsor to foot the huge bills that racing a Baja-style UTV requires?
I finally found a sponsor with Terry Hui. He would give me what I wanted and needed to race professionally. He also gave me the freedom to do what I wanted with the team and build it how I wanted. Since then, we’ve been pretty successful this last year.
How did that whole situation come about?
Last year at the Baja 1000, I was originally going to race for Alonso Lopez, who sold his car to Terry Hui at the Sand Sports Super show right before the 1000. It wasn’t “for sale,” it was just there in the display booth for Alba Action Sports. But everything’s for sale, as we all now. Alonso called me after the Sands Sports Super Show and said “Hey I sold my car, we aren’t going to race anymore.” I said, “All right, no big deal.” Then he called me a week later and asked if I wanted to still race it and I said, “You bet…” He also told me that Terry wanted to actually race the Baja 1000 as part of the team. Since Terry had never raced an off-road event in his life, I was a bit concerned. But, he would be picking up the tab for the entire race, and Terry is an adventure type of guy so I told them, “I’m in.”
How did that first UTV race go?
We didn’t have time to go meet with Terry prior to the race, so I showed up literally the night before the event and met Terry. I would be driving the car from mile 200 down to mile 400. I couldn’t drive very long because I had a charity dinner to attend the next day; they were honoring my dad. I couldn’t go that far down the coast, but at that time the car was still being sorted out. We ended up having a lot of problems with the car. But in the process, Terry got to know me a little bit, just from sitting in the pits and talking and seeing how I was able to take care of different issues, and problem solving. He got to know my background, and the next day at breakfast, he wanted to know if I would be interested in putting together a race team for him. “Sure, no problem,” I said. I gave him my number and I never thought he would call, because I’ve had tons of people ask me that question.
Sunday night, we talked and he asked me what kind of budget I thought I would need to compete. So I told him, and he said, “Okay, let’s do it.” I was like, “Wow, okay.” We set up a corporation and Terry funds the entire program. He lets me make all the decisions about outfitting the car, what sponsors I want to enlist and all the logistics involved in doing that.
Terry’s biggest priority is the Baja 1000; that’s all he’s really interested in and the one race he wanted to co-drive with me. The other races I do on my own, but he still supports the team.
What is Terry’s background?
He owns several companies. He has a really large real estate land development company, up in Canada. They’re an international company with headquarters up in Toronto, Canada. He’s also into solar farms, as well as wind generating plants, hydroelectric dams, all kinds of stuff. He also owns computer companies, cell phone companies. You name it.
Is that why you use a rabbit logo on your car, “Terrabbit” Racing?
Yes. The rabbit logo came from Terry and his wife. They put that one together. It’s a play on words. He owns a software company, so Terrabbit seemed to fit. What’s the most fun event you’ve ever raced?
Oh man, there’s a big difference between the “most fun” and the “most rewarding.” The most fun event I’ve ever ridden is a local race in District 38, called the Christmas Classic. The reason that one is the “most fun” is because it’s a team race. I got the opportunity to team race that event with my dad, on a dirt bike, before he passed away, and we did really well. Last year, I got the opportunity to do the team race with my wife and we ended up taking the overall win. That’s why that one race was the most fun for me.
And what is the most rewarding race you’ve run?
I would say the most rewarding race I’ve ever done was the 2008 San Felipe Baja race. That’s mainly because I wasn’t supposed to win. I had just lost my long time teammate. I ended up going to that race with Mike Cafro and another person by the name of Harold Goodman, who was relatively new to desert racing. Harold Goodman, who is an accomplished ATV MX racer had come out to the desert to see what Baja racing was all about. We weren’t supposed to win, at least our first time out. But, we came from behind and ended up winning the race. And it wasn’t because the other team had any problems, we just flat out beat them. We were better that day, so that’s the one race that stands out as the most rewarding.
What attracts you so much to the Baja series events?
It’s just the adventure of it. It’s a different kind of race from Best in the Desert series. In BITD events, everyone’s going down the same graded dirt road. Whether it’s graded or not, it’s 12 feet wide and it’s a bit of a dog and pony show. You’ve got to pit at certain locations, you’re told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. I’m not taking anything away from a victory there at all, as I’ve won two championships racing BITD events. But, it’s different than Baja.
In Baja, you have to have a strategy, you need race team members, you have to have the right people in the right locations, and the locations are all up to you. Logistics play a huge part; you have to be smart. It doesn’t take that much talent to go down a dirt road at 80 miles an hour; virtually anybody can do that. It does, however, take a whole lot more skill and cunning to put together an effort in Baja, and to pull it off time after time.
When you look back on the different types of racing — quads and UTVs, what do you see as the biggest difference between the two?
Money. It takes an extreme amount of money to race UTVs at the level we’re racing right now. When I raced ATVs at the highest level, it was a fraction of the cost that racing a UTV takes.
What would you recommend to anyone that wanted to get started in UTV racing?
I would tell them to keep it simple and start out locally and see how you do. Find a production class and start racing. See if you have the talents to pursue it. If not, then simply do it for the fun and adventure. If you’re not having any fun, then why do it?
Tell us a little bit about the setup on your race car.
We went out and we built the best car that I knew how to build, no expenses spared. If we saw it, we bought it, then put it on the car and tested it. We worked with one of the top car builders, Jimco, who primarily build Trophy Trucks and Class 1 cars. They built our first race car. Since Jimco isn’t in the UTV business, it was a new gig for them, as well. Racing is racing and Jimco is a high end builder.
We went to them, told them what we wanted, and they built it. Now what we have is an outstanding race car. I truly believe it is the best car on the starting line. But racing UTVs can also be done in a much less expensive way, and using something a lot closer to the stock Polaris RZR race car. You don’t have to go hog wild. The bottom line is I could have run either one of these races in my RZR Prerunner, which I pre-ran the Baja events with. It is basically a stock Polaris RZR XP1000 EPS LoneStar Racing long-travel kit with our setup and Fox Shocks.
You’re kidding right?
Nope. I have the same suspension setup in my RZR Prerunner that I have in my race car. Everything else was just creature comforts, safety issues, and different things that the race organizations made us do, or that we wanted to do. The Prerunner runs great, has the same suspension, and there’s no real difference in the actual driving of it. Your wife, as we understand it, is a very good driver and Baja logistics expert. Tell us a little bit about Kristen Matlock.
Yeah, Kristen is all that. She got into racing about the time we first got together. She got tired of sitting on the sidelines. I bought her first quad, which was a LTZ Suzuki, back when I was racing with Suzuki. She started racing and had a goal of beating a certain person, who will remain nameless, but she proceeded to do it. After achieving that goal, she would keep moving her goals up. Then, when I got signed with Honda, she naturally began racing Hondas, as well. She also learned how to go faster and faster each year. Currently, she has won five championships in the AMA women’s class.
Kristen is a big part of my current race team. She and I develop a pit plan together, we’ll discuss what to do and the logistics involved. Then, she makes the whole pit book. She used to work with Bruce Ogilvie at Honda, doing pit books for them. It even got to the point where she was so good at it, Bruce would call her and ask her questions about what we should put in the pit books (laughs and smiles).
Is it true that Kristen is going to race your old car in 2016?
Yes. Three weeks ago, both of us flew to Minnesota to meet with Polaris. They liked what we had to say, and they actually signed both her and I to a contract. She’s going to be racing our current Jimco race car next year at select events, as I am in the process of building a new Jimco RZR Turbo EPS racer. We plan on hitting both the Mint 400 and the UTV World Championship events. Then, she’s probably going to get in my race car and drive at the Baja 500.
Any plans for you racing an event together?
She already rides as my co-driver in the passenger seat at all the District 38 races when I compete. This past year, she was my co-driver for the whole year during that series. We might do one or two smaller events next year. I’m just not a big fan of putting us together, both in the same car, in a big event where we are racing with high horsepower cars, that weight a lot. If something were to happen to her, while I was behind the wheel, I’d be devastated.
We understand completely. Any other things you want people to know about your racing career?
No, the plans are to go race and have fun. We’re planning on just doing all the big events in 2016. We’re going to the UTV World Championship Race, The Mint 400, as well as the Baja 500 and 1000. If we have time and money left, we’re going to race the Vegas/Reno UTV race, as well. Other than that, it’s all about going out and having a good time, and trying to win some races.
Tell us a little about that big family gathering down at Mike’s Sky Rancho, in Baja. What was that like?
Every year, for quite some time now, we head down to Mike’s Sky Rancho, in Baja. It’s a ritual, to celebrate my dad’s birthday. This was our 27th year in a row, going. The first time I went to Mike’s Sky Rancho, I was riding on a CR80 that we rode through the snow back there. It was a hoot. I was on my CR80, along with my two cousins, and my buddy Austin and Danny Prather. Danny also had another CR80.
Our dads took us all down there, and it’s just been a tradition every year to go for my father’s birthday. My dad passed away almost three years ago now, but it’s something we still do in his memory.
My dad always wanted to celebrate his birthday with friends and family. That’s why we keep it alive and take our families down there. This last year, we had 56 people go down to Mike’s Sky Rancho. We rode through the rain, the snow, all kinds of terrain. This year we had unbelievable weather. It was a great time for all the folks involved. What type of driver setup do you prefer in your race cars?
The setup on our car is probably a lot looser than people would expect. I like a plush riding car. Basically, you slow down for the stuff that looks like it’s going to hurt you, and then go bat-ass crazy fast through everything else.
Other people get in my car and they think it automatically needs a front sway bar, because they try to turn it and it rolls a little bit and doesn’t feel like it wants to turn. I tell them, “Yeah, you don’t really need the sway bar, just commit to the turns and you’re fine.” Stab the throttle and throw it in the turn. It won’t roll over. It’s a little bit of a looser setup, but that’s how I always rode my quads. Yes, the suspension is tight and stiff, it’s going to beat the whole chassis up. We did the whole Baja 1000 and we didn’t have to put a wrench on the car. Same thing with the San Felipe 250, not one wrench on the car.
Why do you think that is?
I owe that to our mechanic Greg Forcberg. He is extremely meticulous, especially when it comes to prepping the race car. He not only preps the car, but he was also in charge of building it. He handles everything on that vehicle, it’s his baby. And I don’t think our team would have the success we have had without him. My job with the team is to drive the car and make sure everything is in place to go win a race. Without people like Greg, or Kristen, we would not be doing this interview on winning the Baja 1000. Driving is the easy part.
No problems, eh?
Truthfully, we didn’t have a single flat in the Baja 1000. We’ve got a good setup. Our whole package works and is reliable. I think it is still the best car out there. It’s race proven. We’re already building a Polaris RZR turbo car right now. It’s at Jimco now, getting built. We’ll have that car ready for the UTV World Championship Race, which is in the middle of February. We’re changing some stuff up a little bit as far as the layout of the car, lowering the center of gravity, and some suspension changes. Other than that, it’s a Jimco chassis, and everything that’s on it.
How much faster do you feel the Polaris Turbo is over the non-turbo equipped RZR XP1000?
Quite a bit. As far as top speed goes, it is not that big of a difference, though. You’re talking maybe five miles an hour on the top end right now. But from zero to 80, it gets there a whole lot quicker. It will hold and stay at 85mph a whole lot more efficiently than the non-turbo car did. Right now our old car will do 85 miles an hour, but you can’t do it for very long, because the belt will go away.
In our new Polaris Turbo car, we can hold that top speed for a lot longer and thus get there faster. Everyone likes to focus on how much more horsepower the car has. But, in desert racing it isn’t about the horsepower, it’s all about the torque. The RZR turbo has a ton more torque than the naturally aspirated XP 1000 motor.
So, as Meghan Trainer likes to say in her song, “Its all about the bass not treble?”
(laughs)… Just change it to, “It’s all about the torque, not horsepower…..(laughs and smiles).
By Dennis Cox
Photos by Jack Wright